Field hockey set to play Duke in first round of NCAA Championship
Look ahead to Friday’s matchup in Durham
Four teams in the tournament faced off Nov. 8 in the opening round of the tournament. American has appeared in that round before, but getting past that play-in round was not guaranteed.
“It’s great for us to be at home for a couple extra days,” head coach Steve Jennings said. “Great for us to have extra days of practice to prepare for an opponent instead of worrying about getting ready for a Wednesday game and then right after that, we have to be ready already for the next game and only having one small practice so it’s a huge advantage for us to prepare for Duke.”
American earned an automatic bid as the winners of the Patriot League, while Duke earned an at-large bid. The Blue Devils fell to UNC Chapel Hill in the ACC Championship 2-0, but they are ranked #3 in the country and have faced statistically tougher competition than the Eagles.
The Eagles and Blue Devils have played each other four times, most recently in 2016. The two head coaches, American’s Jennings and Duke’s Pam Bustin, were with their programs when American beat Duke in 2010, but no players from those years remain on either team. So, while the programs have faced each other before, these specific players have never played each other and their coaches have not seen each other in a while.
“I’m very good friends with Pam, I was on the Olympic staff with her in 2008,” Jennings said. “It’s a great matchup, and having some familiarity with Pam and likewise for her to have some familiarity with us is in some ways an advantage.”
American and Duke played two of the same teams this year — Liberty and the University of Maryland. The Eagles lost to both teams and the Blue Devils beat both, but the games were tight on each side. Each team went to overtime with Liberty — Duke won 2-1 in overtime, while American fell 0-1 in a shootout. On paper, Duke looks like a much better team, but it’s really a few bounces of the ball that separate them.
“I think what it shows is that our performances have been right up there with everybody’s in the country, when it comes to top matches against teams in the top 12, top 15 in the country,” Jennings said. “So that should give us a lot of confidence.”
The teams also played similarly against the University of Maryland. Duke won 2-1, American fell 1-2. Each game had a winning goal towards the end, neither team had an easy fight against Maryland nor gave up.
Both teams share a tendency to play very close games; a majority of each team’s games were decided by one goal. This contest should be entirely winnable by either side. The winner of this game will go on to face the winner of Liberty versus Syracuse.
“We’re tremendously excited and happy that the team took care of business with the Patriot League,” Jennings said. “But we definitely don’t want to be participants in the NCAA, we want to be competitors.”
This article was edited by Penelope Jennings, Delaney Hoke and Abigail Pritchard. Copy editing done by Isabelle Kravis, Sarah Clayton and Charlie Mennuti and Charlie Mennuti.